The European Alps cover 200,000 km2 and are home to over 4400 wild plant species, of which some 800 are exclusively alpine. On the higher slopes above the treeline, a wide variety of endemic and endangered species can be found.
Yet the region’s flora is critically threatened by human development and climate change, and requires urgent protection. Over several centuries, deforestation and changes in land use have severely affected High Mountain and Alpine ecosystems which are now the most threatened habitats in Europe. In addition, the alpine flora provides a number of vital ecosystem services, which are equally threatened by loss of diversity. For example, 80-90% of the freshwater in lowland Europe originates as alpine runoff. Many wild species are of high potential economic value – whether in ornamental horticulture, as a repository of useful genes in crop breeding programmes, or for known or suspected medicinal properties.
In the light of the significant ecosystem services that plant species in the European Alps provide, and the increasing threat to these plant communities, their long-term preservation is paramount.
The Alpine Plant Conservation & Research Programme of the European Alpine Seed Conservation Network will deliver an integrated programme of conservation and research for alpine flora. This programme will address the rapid deterioration of natural habitats and crucial knowledge gaps in key alpine species via the following activities:
- Seed collection from (semi-) natural grassland communities in the high-montane, alpine and nival altitudinal belts and adjacent, directly connected specialist communities
- Ex situ conservation of 500 species of high conservation value
- Fieldwork combined with informal and formal learning opportunities by bringing partners together from across the network
- Research via co-supervised MSc and PhD students to establish the optimum germination and propagation procedures for important plant families (e.g. Saxifragaceae, Orchidaceae, Poaceae, Gentianaceae, Campanulaceae)
- Research to model how species will adapt to differing climate patterns and how alpine species will compete with encroaching sub-alpine species, and to investigate comparative germination and longevity studies
- Education and engagement via living collection displays, publications and engagement with local schools to increase public understanding of the threats to alpine plants and the importance of their conservation